The UK government’s policy towards Ukrainian refugees was in chaos on Monday as Priti Patel’s pledge to introduce a new humanitarian route to enter the UK was contradicted by Downing Street and ministers.
Sources close to the home secretary on Monday confirmed reports that she was pushing through proposals for a third scheme by which refugees from the war-torn country could escape invading Russian forces.
But No 10 appeared to deny there would be a third refugee route, while Boris Johnson emphasised that the government would not grant Ukrainians permission to enter the UK without the requirement that they go through asylum procedures.
It followed a chaotic morning when the Foreign Office minister James Cleverly and Downing Street both denied the UK was to offer Ukrainian refugees a new humanitarian-based route to the country.
They were responding to a report in the Sun, which quoted Priti Patel, the home secretary, as saying she was “investigating the legal options to create a humanitarian route”.
So far the UK has only been accepting those of the 1.3 million-plus Ukrainians to have fled the country since Russia invaded who have family connections in the UK or if they have been sponsored by a third party.
Home Office sources confirmed that “around 50” visas had been granted under the Ukraine family scheme by 10am on Sunday.
On Monday, a Home Office source said a third route was being considered, in line with the Sun’s claims.
“As the crisis is developing it is becoming clear some people have needs that go beyond what sponsorship can offer and she does not want to see anyone excluded – hence why [a separate humanitarian route is] being considered with partner governments,” the source said.
An hour later, at a briefing for journalists, the prime minister’s spokesperson said Patel had been referring to a route to the UK that was announced last week, which allows Ukrainian refugees to be sponsored to come to the UK by a third party.
“We have set out the two routes we are putting in place. The sponsorship route is a humanitarian route,” the spokesperson said.
Asked what Patel was talking about, he said: “It’s the sponsorship route we set out last week. There are two routes: the family route, which we’ve announced, alongside the humanitarian sponsorship route.”
In a televised clip, Johnson said any humanitarian route would still check each individual applicant before they are allowed into the UK.
“Let me be very clear, what we won’t do is have a system where people can come into the UK without any checks, or any controls at all,” he said.
Cleverly, the minister for Europe and America, contradicted Patel, telling the BBC One Breakfast programme there were no plans for a specific humanitarian route for Ukrainians.
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“No, this is what has been in place previously,” he said. “What we need to do is we need to have some sort of process. We need to know who is here, where they are staying, what support they might need, if there are child protection issues.
“Whilst all of us would want to throw our arms open and be as generous as possible, there does need to be a process.”
Ministers are facing pressure to do more, including from some Conservative backbenchers.
Asked on Monday if the UK refugee scheme had been a failure, Tom Tugendhat, the Tory MP who chairs the foreign affair select committee, told LBC Radio: “It’s certainly not a success, is it? What we need to do is to make sure that we get the Home Office is absolutely delivering to make sure we get support for those who are most in need.
“The British people are extremely generous, you and I both know that. This isn’t some sort of illegal scam. This is perfectly obviously people fleeing for their lines and we need to be absolutely there to support them.”
The humanitarian plan being examined by Patel would be the third extension of the scheme. Ministers last week agreed to include both immediate and extended family members with links to the UK.
This means that as well as spouses, partners and children under 18, it also includes extended family such as older parents, children over 18, grandparents and grandchildren and siblings.
The Home Office also announced a sponsorship scheme that will allow communities, private sponsors or local authorities, to bring those forced to flee Ukraine to the UK.
However, all applicants are still having to undergo biometric and security checks, which have been blamed for the low number of applications having been approved as of Sunday morning.
A government spokesperson said: “Last week we announced a new sponsorship route which will allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored to come to the UK.
“This is alongside our Ukraine Family Scheme, which has already seen thousands of people apply, as well as changes to visas so that people can stay in the UK safely.
“The routes we have put in place follow extensive engagement with Ukrainian partners. This is a rapidly moving and complex picture and as the situation develops we will continue to keep our support under constant review.”
Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “Without a clear commitment to provide a safe route to any Ukrainian who wants to come to the UK the government’s offer remains unkind and heartless.
“Instead of prevaricating, the government must now quickly step up and take the lead in providing a warm welcome to people whose lives have been torn apart by war.